Cabaret Reviews and Commentary by Stephen Hanks
At last year's Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC) Awards, two of the big winners were T. Oliver Reid (right) for Male Debut and Eric Michael Gillett for Major Artist, Male (and both could very likely be MAC nominees again this year). Almost a year later, two of New York cabaret's leading men performed new shows one night apart at 54 Below; Reid on February 6 with Drop Me Off in Harlem, and Gillett the next night with Careless Rhapsody: An Evening Dedicated to the Lyrics of Lorenz Hart. Ironically, what the shows had in common--besides being a fairly good fit of material to singer--was that the majority of their sets featured songs written in the 1930s but in very different styles. With Reid it was the jazz, swing and blues of Harlem; with Gillette it was the romantic Broadway musical sensibility of Hart's lyrics (paired with the timeless melodies of Richard Rodgers). While neither Reid's "Harlem," nor Gillett's "Hart" were stirring or spectacular shows, they were both solid and entertaining enough that both could be nominated for BroadwayWorld.com Awards in 2013.
T. Oliver Reid is already being honored for "Harlem," earning a Bistro Award (presented on March 4) for "Tribute Show," on the strength of his run at Feinstein's in November and December. For his one-shot deal at 54 Below, Reid reunited with his stellar band, featuring Musical Director/Pianist Lawrence Yurman, Ray Kilday on bass, Trevor Newman on trumpet, and Damien Bassman on drums and percussion. It isn't enough for just the singer to capture the sounds and soul of the Cotton Club and the other infamous Harlem nightlight venues of the depression era, you must have a swinging band to help pull it off and on that front, Reid's group rocked.
The cover boy of the January/February issue of Cabaret Scenes Magazine entered elegantly in a tuxedo and top hat and launched into the story of the heyday of Upper Manhattan's African-American neighborhood with "What Harlem Is To Me" (Andy Razaf/Russell Wooding/Paul Denniker). How did one from outside the nabe get to Harlem (especially the upper middle class whites who frequented the more popular nightclubs)? Of course, you would "Take The 'A' Train" (here Reid's band produced a swinging arrangement of the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn classic) that would "Drop Me Off in Harlem." From there Reid took the audience on a journey to the areas hottest spots, like the Savoy Ballroom, Small's Paradise, the Radium Club, and the homosexual hangouts Gladys' Clam House and the Sugar Cane, offering up along the way 30 songs or snippets of tunes written by the likes of Ellington and Irving Mills, Cab Calloway and Mills, Razaf and Denniker, and, of course, Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, who wrote many standards, such as "Stormy Weather," for the Cotton Club between 1930-34. (Rosemary Loar is exploring similar musical history territory in her current show When Harry Met The Duke at the Metropolitan Room.) (Please click on Page 2 below to continue.)